It’s inevitable. One day you will break up with a client. It could be after decades or after a few months. It can be unexpected, or you may have sensed it was on the way. Or, what seemed like a great fit turned into the client from hell. Whatever the situation, we’re here to prepare you for the surprise email, the difficult conversation, and how best to move forward to your next client relationships.
These endings aren’t always timed well for our bank accounts but don’t lose sight of the value as opportunities to learn and grow.
When to Fire a Client
If a client is unprofessional, abusive, or holds unrealistic expectations, it’s time to let them go. There are other situations where the decision might not be as obvious, such as:
- Client consistently does not fulfill their project obligations by failing to provide you with the information or resources needed to achieve your deliverables. If you don't get what you need to do your job, you are setting the stage for stress, failure and potential damage to your reputation.
- Perhaps your client relationship started off well but an internal change has caused it to now be dysfunctional. A new point person may have a different work style and goals leading to friction. Or your contact may change due to internal (or external) pressures.
- Your client is seeking to slash your budget but wants the same scope of work. If a client is bringing some of the work in-house or shifting their budget spend, it makes sense to redefine your scope of work and budget. However, if they want to cut fees because they don't see the value in what you do, it is time to part ways.
- The work is no longer challenging or satisfying. If you're phoning it in, it may be time to say good-bye.
- You’ve done all you can to achieve client goals, and the relationship has run its natural course.
Once you’ve made the decision, what are the best practices for making a clean break?
Here’s where it’s key to have prepared for this day when you started the working relationship, with a contract or letter of agreement outlining all client/vendor expectations and deliverables.
Follow these steps to ensure a positive process:
- Keep the Human Touch.
Let the client hear it from you, literally. Call them on the phone or arrange to meet. Make the call, even if it’s only to arrange the meeting. They will remember the respect paid to them.
- Be Professional.
Above all else, be professional. Even if it appears things might get heated, maintain your calm and be polite.
It is truly a small world, and you never know who is in your client contact’s sphere of influence. Just as we encourage our clients to cultivate online reviews, they may remember what you’ve taught them. As best you can, leave the relationship so that any online feedback they may give maintains your credibility.
- Complete all work.
Follow through on your commitment to the end, according to your initial agreement.
- Offer to make a referral.
As appropriate (and if it’s a client you feel good about referring to peers), offer to provide referrals to other communications professionals.
- Turn over files.
Provide the client with files of the collateral material created during the relationship. This is easily done via a zipped (compressed) file send via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, or any other file sharing resource.
Nothing lasts forever, including our relationships with clients. With a little preparation, you can exit as professionally as you onboard clients.
We'd love to hear from you, any tips to share on exiting clients? Let us know in the comments or on social media using #solopr.